Hae Pha Khuen Festival

One of the most important places to celebrate Makha Bucha Day, a Buddhist holiday, is at Wat Phra Mahathat Woramahawihan. This royal temple, in Nakhon Si Thammarat in Southern Thailand, houses a relic of the Lord Buddha. On the full moon day during February every year, local people take part in a parade called Hae Pha Khuen That. They believe that taking part will bring them good fortune and success in life. So, Buddhists come from far away to take part in the parade.

In the old days, Thai Buddhists would prepare a long piece of white cloth painted with the story of the Buddha’s life. This cloth is known as Phra Bot. They would then carry this in a parade to the temple where they would wrap it around the giant stupa which houses a relic of the Buddha. These days, people don’t always have time to prepare such a cloth, so instead, many of them would carry cloths that were either coloured white, yellow or red.

The tradition of making a Phra Bot as an offering is done by Buddhists all around the world. In order to make the festival more of an international event, last year for the first time, the local government invited participants from other Buddhist countries such as Sri Lanka, India, Japan and China. This is rather apt as because the very first Phra Bot, which was used to wrap around the stupa, was originally made as an offering to the Buddha’s Footprint in Sri Lanka.

According to legend, the tradition of wrapping a Phra Bot around the stupa dated back to 1230 A.D. during the reign of King Si Thamma Sokkarat. He had just finished building a giant stupa called Phra Boromthat which housed a relic of the Lord Buddha. Before he had formerly dedicated the stupa, he heard that some people had been shipwrecked after a violent storm. With them they had a Phra Bot which they were taking to Sri Lanka as an offering. The King decided to bring this Phra Bot to the stupa where he wrapped it around the construction as an offering to the Buddha. This then became an annual tradition.

I was lucky yesterday to be able to take part in this parade for the first time. I had flown down to Nakhon Si Thammarat by Nok Air the day before. The flight only took 70 minutes compared to ten hours by bus. The parade started near the City Pillar on Ratchadamnoen Road. There were literally thousands of people taking part in the parade. These varied from local schools and organisations to individual Buddhists who had travelled from far and near to take part in this important pilgrimage. Most of them were holding onto a piece of the Phra Bot cloth.

After the opening ceremony by the provincial governor, the parade set off along Ratchadamnoen Road towards Wat Phramahathat Woramahawihan. Although we could see it in the far distance, I think it took us nearly an hour to walk there. It was a very hot day and even though people were obviously exhausted, I think they were happy to take part. Along the way local people had come out to watch and also to offer water to the people taking part in the parade. I arrived ahead of the parade only to find that there were already thousands of people at the temple wrapping cloths around the stupas, both big and small.

I climbed the steps to the base of the giant stupa. This is an up-turned bell-shaped chedi in the Sri-Lankan style. Although the parade hadn’t arrived yet, many pieces of cloth had already been wrapped around the base which has a circumference of 36 meters. The stupa itself is 53 meters high. The last eight meters at the very top is made from solid gold. This is the part that houses a tooth, which is a relic of the Lord Buddha. People were either stapling or pinning their pieces of cloth to the ones that were already there. They were also writing prayers on the cloth.

I had a really enjoyable time taking part in this festival. The whole event took place between 12th and 18th February 2011. They had many other activities during the past week which led up to the parade on the last day. This included a light and sound show that I watched on Thursday night. If you get a chance, it is definitely worth visiting Nakhon Si Thammarat next year during the week leading up to the full moon in February. There is a lot to see and do in this province which I will tell you about another day. In fact, I am still here and tomorrow I will be going on a boat tour where I will be doing some kayaking. Hopefully we will get a chance to see some pink dolphins. More about that later.

– Posted from my iPad

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